Haploid vs Diploid

What’s the difference between haploid vs diploid, and how do I remember which is which?

Haploid is when a cell has one complete set of chromosomes.

Diploid is when a cell has two complete sets of chromosomes.

One way to remember the difference is to associate the beginnings of the words with a corresponding attribute.

So, haploid refers to half the usual amount of chromosomes (one instead of two), and diploid refers to di which means two sets of chromosomes.

Another way to remember the difference is to look at the Greek origins of the words.

The word haploid stems from the Greek haplos which means single. The word diploid stems from the Greek word diploos which means double.

That’s the main difference, but there is much more to haploid vs diploid than the number of chromosome sets so let’s delve a bit deeper to understand them better.

Background Information

It can help to have a little background information to better understand the differences between haploid and diploid. So, we’ll look at cells, chromosomes, homologous chromosomes, and chromosome denotation. And we’ll use them as a lens to help understand the differences between haploid and diploid.


All living organisms (except for viruses) are made up of cells. They are the basis for all life and are considered “the building blocks of life.”

Cells are also the smallest self-replicating unit of life. There are two major types of cells: prokaryotes and eukaryotes.

Prokaryotes do not have a nucleus or any membrane-bound organelles. Bacteria would be an example of a prokaryote. Most prokaryotes are haploid (half the number of chromosomes).

Eukaryotes do have a nucleus and membrane-bound organelles. Humans, animals, and plants are examples of eukaryotes. Most eukaryotes are diploid (two sets of chromosomes).

Cells can also be classified according to their function. There are two types of functional cells: gametes and somatic cells.

Gametes are sexual reproduction cells. An example would be sperm (for males) and ova/eggs (for females). Gamete cells are haploid.

Somatic cells are any other cells in a living organism that are not used for sexual reproduction. An example would be the cells that make up your skin, bones, blood, muscle, and internal organs. Basically, everything but the reproductive cells. Somatic cells are diploid.

Most haploid organisms have haploid cells, and most diploid organisms have a majority of diploid cells with only their sexual cells being haploid.

However, there are some exceptions to this such as the gender differences in certain insects. Female wasps, bees, and ants are diploid, but male wasps, bees, and ants are haploid.


Chromosomes are DNA molecules that store an organism’s genetic makeup. Different organisms and cell types have differing numbers of chromosomes.

The number of sets of chromosomes is called ploidy. This can also be referred to as the ploidy level. A cell can be monoploid (one set), diploid (two sets), triploid (three sets), tetraploid (four sets), and so forth.

A key point to remember is not to confuse monoploid with haploid.

Monoploid refers to the total number of chromosomes in a single set of chromosomes, while haploid refers to the total number of chromosomes in a cell.

This means a cell is monoploid if it has one set of unique chromosomes, and a cell is haploid if it only has half the usual set of chromosomes.

An example of this difference would be wheat. Gametes of wheat cells are haploid because they contain half the genetic material of their somatic cells. However, they still contain three sets of chromosomes, so they are triploid cells not monoploid.

Homologous Chromosomes

Homologous chromosomes are a pair of chromosomes that have the same genes or characteristics, but they are not identical. So, the chromosomes have the same length and code for the same characteristics, but they have different DNA sequences.

These two chromosomes come from the parents (one chromosome from each parent). So, for example, humans have 23 homologous chromosomes (that contain the genetic material from both parents) and a pair of sex chromosomes that determine our gender.

The genes on the homologous chromosomes are in the same order, but they might not have the same alleles. Alleles are variations of genes that are obtained from the parent organism.

An example of this would be eye color. The gene for eye color is stored on homologous chromosomes. The chromosomes are considered homologous because you received one from each parent, and both chromosomes contain your eye color gene.

However, you could have received a brown allele from your mother and a blue allele from your father. So, it’s the same gene (the eye color gene), but the alleles are different (brown and blue).

Chromosome Denotation

The number of chromosomes in a cell is denoted by an n in scientific writing. This is referred to as a diploid number. The letter n stands for the number of chromosomes, and the prefix before it refers to how many sets of chromosomes there are.

So, haploid would be denoted by n since it has half the number of chromosome sets (one set). Diploid would be 2n since it has two sets.

The diploid number can also be represented by an equation that shows the total number of chromosomes as well. An example would be the equation for the diploid number for humans which is 2n=46. We have two (2) sets of 23 chromosomes (n) which totals to (=) 46 chromosomes.

Haploid vs Diploid Cellular Reproduction

Cellular reproduction is another defining difference between haploid vs diploid cells.

Haploid cells are typically a result of meiosis, and diploid cells are typically a result of mitosis.

Meiosis is where diploid cells divide twice to produce four haploid cells. These cells then come together and then the cells become diploid again.

Mitosis is when a single cell divides into two genetically identical cells.

Keep in mind that this is only referring to cellular reproduction.

Haploid vs Diploid - Mitosis vs Meiosis

Haploid vs Diploid Sexual Reproduction

When it comes to organisms instead of cells, reproduction is a different story.

Haploid organisms (such as bacteria) typically reproduce asexually (by themselves) normally by the process of binary fission. Binary fission is where a single organism breaks into two, and the two resulting organisms have the same genetic material.

Diploid organisms (such as humans) typically reproduce sexually (two organisms come together to produce two offspring that have genetic material from both parents) normally by the process of meiosis.

Final Thoughts on Haploid vs Diploid

It can initially be difficult to remember the differences between haploid and diploid, but keep in mind the beginnings of the words. Ha refers to a cell only having half the usual amounts of chromosomes (one instead of two), and di refers to a cell having two sets of chromosomes.

That is the main difference between them: haploid cells have one complete set of chromosomes, and diploid cells have two complete sets of chromosomes.

Most haploid organisms are prokaryotes (such as bacteria), and most diploid organism are eukaryotes (such as humans).

Haploid cells are typically the gametes (sexual cells) and are the result of meiosis.

Diploid cells are typically the somatic cells (non-sexual) and are the result of mitosis.

Haploid organisms typically reproduce asexually by the process of binary fission. Diploid organisms typically reproduce sexually by the process of meiosis.


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